Case Study: Protobios Ltd. / SME

Protobios – from EE    

Protobios Ltd. was founded in 2003. The company is developing new diagnostic tests and offering services in the field of immunology analysis. Since their founding the company has contributed to the development of novel technologies in field cell technology and immunology.

Business: cell technology and immunology
History in Japan: Went on mission to Japan in 2013, has personal and academic ties.
Size: 10-15 work-site employees powered with outsourced service staff in Estonia
Target market: Biotechnology

 

It is Protobios’ mission to make diagnostics easier by developing ways to facilitate new and innovative technologies to improve the future of molecular diagnostics together with hospitals and technology leaders around the world.

The company looks to offer their clients accurate, safe and cost-effective diagnostic solutions for different chronic conditions. By using innovative multi-analyte screening platforms that are not constrained by the problems facing conventional diagnostics, the company can address the problems before symptoms arise. And without symptoms, no loss of quality of life.

WHY JAPAN?

Ms Palm, founder and CEO, started looking into Japan when trying to find attractive healthcare markets. Japan is a very large economy and this served as a starting point.

STEPS TAKEN

Ms. Palm’s started to be interested in Japan for business in early 2011, exploring different options for her to make contacts in the market. However, after disaster struck at Fukushima her plans were put on hold for 2 years. It was not until 2013 that she would set foot in Japan during a training programme as well as during the EU-Japan Centre’s biotechnology mission. In total she stayed in Japan for 11 months, with the mission right in the end. During the BioJapan fair she was guided around by local pharma, academic and embassy contacts she had made previously. The latter promoted her which was an excellent opportunity. After the BioJapan mission Ms. Palm completed her studies in Japan as part of another programme (Executive Training Programme, another EC-funded 12-month programme). During this time she joined the lab of a world-famous Japanese professor and made personal and academic contacts that last until this day. It turned out to be too effort consuming to successfully follow up on the contacts she made during the fair.
After returning to Europe, she found it difficult to push through business-wise, but took care to maintain the personal relations.

CHALLENGES

Ms. Palm indicated that it was a challenge to arrange meetings with Japanese companies during the BioJapan fair. Although she tried to set up meetings with Japanese companies at the fair, many declined her request. She felt that among the many request for meetings that Japanese companies received, hers was not a priority. It was her experience that is very difficult to build trust in the biomedicine sector, unless you have a well-trusted company or promoter introducing your product which should also be really special and really superior. She also had the feeling that many of the company heads, which are older men, build trust differently: they do not like contracts so much and instead rely on a handshake or mutual experience.
Finally, Ms. Palm also expressed her slight uneasiness with being a European business woman alone, surrounded by senior Japanese business executives. Given the differences in business culture, it was quite a challenge for her to sell her company under these circumstances.

CURRENT STATUS – NEXT STEPS

Ms. Palm has some future plans with regards to Japan. She is looking at one of the EU-Japan Centre’s programmes (Vulcanus in Europe) that would allow her to host a Japanese engineering student as a trainee. Concerning her next steps in business, she is now looking for opportunities to work with the government of her country, Estonia, in promoting her business in Japan. The Estonian government is very focused on the country’s IT sector and has recently introduced its ID card implementation experience in Japan. Given that Ms. Palm’s company operates at the cross-roads of biotechnology and ICT, she is now looking at government initiatives as a way into the Japanese market.
She is positive about the chances of success, as business in Japan is more likely to succeed if a high ranked official promotes your business.

Interview made with Ms. Kaia Palm, CEO of Protobios